video thumbnail

STL@SF: Garcia fans nine over 7 1/3 dominant innings

The stakes will be high for Jaime Garcia when the left-hander returns to the Cardinals on Sunday, following more than two months on the disabled list.

Garcia last pitched for St. Louis on June 5, but his recovery from a left shoulder impingement comes in time for him to face the Pirates in the rubber game of their series at Busch Stadium. After winning on Saturday, the Cardinals sit one game behind the Pirates for the National League's second Wild Card spot.

Garcia, who will oppose Pittsburgh's Jeff Karstens, is 3-4 with a 4.48 ERA in 11 starts this season, after going 13-7 with a 3.56 mark in 2011. His last two outings before he went on the DL caused his ERA to shoot up almost a run, but manager Mike Matheny is confident that won't be the pitcher his club is getting back.

"Watching him throw his bullpen and his sides, he looks very similar to the Jaime we've seen and that was penciled in as our No. 3 starter going into the season," Matheny said. "He's one of the five guys that we knew we were going to need every fifth day. We've been excited to get him healthy, and when he's healthy, I know he's going to give us a great chance to win."

The 26-year-old posted a 4.08 ERA and struck out 20 in 17 2/3 innings over four Minor League rehab appearances split between three levels. He threw 93 pitches on Tuesday at Triple-A Memphis and is expected to be ready for at least 100 on Sunday, when he takes on the Pirates for the first time since last July.

"I have some confidence back, and I feel like my timing is where it needs to be with my pitches," Garcia said. "Most importantly, my shoulder is feeling good. When you rehab from a shoulder, it's tough to get the feeling back, the feeling of making pitches and trusting your stuff. It's a little more complicated than the elbow. But like I said, this start was definitely big for me to get some of that confidence back."

Karstens (4-3, 3.91 ERA) has excelled in his last eight starts, going 4-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 41-to-12 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, while pitching at least seven innings five times. The first outing in the stretch came on June 30 at St. Louis, when the right-hander held the Cardinals to two runs on four hits in seven innings, while striking out seven.

The struggle for Karstens has been in the first inning, when his ERA is 8.25. In fact, Pittsburgh's entire rotation has struggled with that problem as of late. When the Cardinals scored in Saturday's opening frame, that made it eight times in 12 games that the Pirates' opposition has done so.

"As a whole, our starting six, we've had a little bit of trouble with that first inning," Karstens said. "It's not like they're scoring 4-5 runs, just maybe a solo homer -- and you are trying to be aggressive early, so you can't fault the pitcher for that. At the same time, we need maybe a little more focus in that first. After that, I feel like everyone is doing a pretty good job competing."

Pirates: A rare blemish on McCutchen's season
• Andrew McCutchen hasn't produced too many quiet games this season. But the All-Star center fielder went 0-for-5 on Saturday, although he drove in a run with a fielder's choice grounder in the ninth inning.

It was only McCutchen's second 0-for-5 performance of the season, with the other coming on June 28 against the Phillies. The following day, coincidentally at St. Louis, he rebounded with a 4-for-5 effort that included a home run, three RBIs and four runs scored.

McCutchen is now 8-for-40 (.200) with one double and one home run over his past 11 games.

• Since the NL Central formed in 1994, the Pirates have never posted a winning record within the division. Even after Saturday's loss, they are 29-20 this season, including 15-12 on the road.

Cardinals: Searching for answers in close games
• St. Louis' 5-4 win on Saturday was a rarity in that it came by a narrow margin. Games in that category haven't been kind to the Cardinals this season.

Entering the day, the club's 12-21 mark in one-run games was 27th in the Majors. Its 17-34 record in games determined by no more than two runs was 30th.

"If we could put our finger on it, we would have fixed it a long time ago," Matheny said. "What it does say is that we're not getting blown out. It says a lot about pitching. It also says that we're not capitalizing on opportunities, doing some of the little things, getting runners over and in -- and that hurt us [on Friday] and the day before. Both times we had second and third and nobody out and those hurt. When you're in close games and tight situations, you have to do the little things right to win those [games], and they haven't been happening."

• Right fielder Carlos Beltran is expected to be back in the lineup on Sunday after appearing only as a pinch-hitter on Saturday and striking out. Beltran is 4-for-26 (.154) with two doubles, one walk and 11 punchouts in his past seven games.

Worth noting
• Karstens is 3-0 in day games, allowing three earned runs in 19 innings for a 1.42 ERA.

• The Cardinals lead the season series, 6-5. After Sunday's game, the teams will meet one more time during the regular season, Aug. 27-29 in Pittsburgh. Comments